“New Year’s Eve with The Hold Steady,” Ben Nichols said from the stage. “New Year’s Eve with Lucero!” shouted someone from the audience. How much fun is it to see a band that is as excited to see the music that night as the audience is? A lot of fun.
As soon as the announcement was made I bought a ticket for The Hold Steady and Lucero at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair, NJ. Then I had to figure out how the hell to get to Montclair, NJ on New Year’s Eve and back to NYC. LIRR to NJ Transit plus cab. I decided to stay overnight at the Courtyard Marriott in West Orange so I didn’t have to rely on cabs or public transportation home early New Year’s morning.
Then I asked my friend Peter if he could pick me up in West Orange on New Year’s Day. He wanted to know why the person taking me couldn’t bring me home. I told him my plan and he agreed to take me there and back. In return, he wanted to walk across the Walkway Over the Hudson on New Year’s Day. Walking over two miles in the cold was not my idea of how to spend New Year’s Day but I said yes.
That night we had dinner at Pal’s Cabin, which first opened in 1932 as just a hot dog stand. It looks like a hunting lodge now and they own their own ranch in Wyoming so they are known for their steaks. Also the menu says that the “Clams Casino are never a gamble.” I had a good cream of mushroom soup and a very delicious filet mignon. Peter had the prime rib, which was big enough for four people. He has leftovers for quite some time.
The cab that the front desk called for me was taken by four guys also going to the Wellmont. Apparently I wasn’t the only one to decide to stay in that hotel for the night. Another cab was called and I shared it with a couple who were seeing Lucero for the first time after having heard them on a jukebox in New Orleans. They didn’t know much about The Hold Steady so I told them a little about both bands. The driver Aaron was a very nice guy, who owned his cab and told me to call him when I was leaving the theater and he would pick me up.
The Wellmont is an old movie theater with all the seats removed from downstairs but the seats still in the balcony. You can buy a balcony seat instead of general admission downstairs. All of the staff were incredibly nice and the staff person upstairs told me the show wasn’t sold out so I could move to another seat after the show started. Also since the show wasn’t sold out we could move freely from the floor downstairs to our seats upstairs. Since I’d purchased a very good seat, I did not plan on moving.
All surfaces were covered with NYE hats and horns that a lot of people were wearing and blowing. The bar downstairs had sangria and there was also popcorn just like a movie theater should have.
Onstage first was “adult” comedian Kurt Braunohler whose first jokes involved asses and shit. I’m no prude. But a joke has to be funny to make me laugh. Using ‘dirty’ words isn’t enough. His girlfriend of 13 years is Kristin Schaal, so you’d think there would be something there but I didn’t see it. I realize he had a very difficult job – being the opening act is hard enough. Being a comedian and the opening act for a rock show is even tougher. I haven’t seen that since the Bottom Line days in the 1970s and then the comedians I saw open for the music acts were people like Richard Belzer and Elayne Boosler. I’m not counting Madison Square Garden and Cher because that was more of a Vegas act anyway.
I did however make it to the merch table during his set and almost smacked right into Brian Venable. I was so surprised that I said, “Brian!” and he said, “Hi,” and we each went on our way. If I hadn’t almost walked into him I probably wouldn’t have said anything – I surprised myself as much as anybody.
Some popcorn. Some sangria. I was ready for Lucero. While watching the mosh pit I was thinking of the JADEDPUNKHULK’s tweet: LUCERO ONLY BAND HULK CAN THINK OF THAT HAVE SHOWS WHERE THERE COUPLES SLOW DANCING WHILE SHIRTLESS BROS MOSH – and how true that is. The floor was too crowded for the couples slow dancing but the mosh pit guys were getting pretty rowdy and finally John C. Stubblefield asked them to be careful of the ladies women or women ladies (he wasn’t sure which was more correct).
During the show Ben made some references to the nights in Brooklyn. Someone called out for him to call his mom and he explained what had happened and that he had to call her and apologize the next day. Ben and Todd Beene also laughed about the other night when Ben said Glossary couldn’t sell their songs. Ben did a shout out to Glossary again and to Todd with Ben saying that he performs “Mine Tonight” just to hear Todd play. And Ben also gave a shout out to Rick Steff and how much he loves to hear Rick play. For “Downtown” there was an almost whispered “probably not” after he sung “Oh, I’ll be good tonight.”
The band played as great as ever. There were several times when I got chills and once I almost burst into tears I was so happy to be listening to those heartfelt lyrics, that intensely quiet drumming, those punk guitar licks, that foine bass, that boogie-woogie keyboard, that crying pedal steel, and those soulful horns.
In case you don’t know – Ben Nichols (vocals, guitar), Brian Venable (lead guitar), John C. Stubblefield (electric bass), Roy Berry (drums), Rick Steff (keyboards), Todd Beene (pedal steel), Jim Spake (saxophones), and Scott Thompson (trumpet).
At the end Ben said he doesn’t usually drink but tonight he was off to the bar to get a drink and listen to The Hold Steady and Brian bowed down low and threw his hat onto the floor in a dramatic move.
Ben solo with Todd and Rick
After The Hold Steady’s first song, Craig Finn told the audience that he’d like all of us to ring in 2013 together. So it may not happen at exactly midnight but we would all count down together.
At 11:58pm, Finn stopped and asked the members of Lucero and Braunohler to come on stage and we all counted down. There were lots of hugs and love up on stage. Brian took a photo of him and Ben with the audience behind them. And Ben took a photo of the crowd. Finn said that they had been trying to make this show happen for seven years. John C said to be careful what you wish for. Jim and Scott played the horns with The Hold Steady for “Auld Lang Syne.”
The Hold Steady performed “Hurricane J” “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” “Sequestered in Memphis” (where John C. joined them for the last chorus and unfortunately Ben did not join them at all) “Rock Problems” “Southtown Girls” “You Can Make Him Like You”
During “Magazines” a lot of people in the crowd started pointing and Finn stopped the song and said there appeared to be a situation and the band was going to take a break. All I could see was people bending over. The theater asked the band to play so they did “First Night” but only played the first quiet section of the song so that communication could happen on the floor. The band left the stage again and came back after the woozy patron got up and left with the paramedics.
Finn was obviously upset by what had happened but brought up all his energy and dancing for “Constructive Summer.” They covered AC/DC’s “Have a Drink on Me.”
Confetti came out of cannons and big balloons from back stage were thrown into the audience. John C. kept fixing Steve Selvidge’s guitar cable.
The Hold Steady is Craig Finn (lead vocals, guitar), Tad Kubler (lead guitar), Galen Polivka (electric bass), Bobby Drake (drums), and Steve Selvidge (guitar). Most of the songs are stories. The band is labeled indie rock but they musically reference the classics like Led Zeppelin and there is some Americana thrown in there. Finn seems not to be able to control his movements as he dances and shouts to the audience off-mic.
“Stay Positive” was one of the encore songs and it was difficult. The medical situation had sucked a lot of the air and fun out of the room. But there was no blaming The Hold Steady and Finn’s energy – they never slowed down.
Aaron had his cell phone turned off. He is now dead to me. There were a bunch of us on Bloomfield Avenue trying to get a cab. The avenue had been hopping earlier that night with full restaurants but at almost 2am it was empty. The few cabs that went by refused to pick up anyone. Finally I had to wake Peter to come and get me to me back to our hotel. a
The walk on the pedestrian bridge from Highland to Poughkeepsie, NY was actually very nice.
By Carene Lydia Lopez